Mild spoilers abound.
There are a few directions I could have gone with in writing about the new Star Trek film that came out almost a month ago. The state of the plot and racism in casting have already been covered in the wittily titled Star Trek Into Dumbness and Whiteness, respectively. No, what I’m going to be writing about is a very specific scene I mentioned in our last E>. Here’s an image of the scene in question, in case you’d forgotten:
Before I carry on in highlighting the various opinions around the internet on this, allow me to provide some context. The woman is Carol Marcus, science officer, played by Alice Eve. She leads Captain James T. Kirk into a shuttle where she proceeds to talk to him about torpedoes. As she does so she asks him to turn around, and then begins stripping. He peeks. She looks at him [pictured above], and once again asks him to turn around. He does.
There Are Two Schools Of Thought
The first, of course, has no problem with this scene. It’s a bit of eye candy in a summer blockbuster, and that’s it.
On the other hand we have people who find everything about Eve’s scene to be extremely gratuitous, a bit of T&A for the sake of pleasing the film’s primary demographic: young males. Not only that, but as far as the plot is concerned, it doesn’t make sense. Is Marcus trying to seduce Kirk? After she tells him to turn around any follow-up on any kind of flirtation is completely absent. It’s titillation, plain and simple, and goes strongly against the portrayal of women that was so prominent in the original series.
Queue The Internet Backlash
As in most cases where a beloved franchise is scrutinized, there is always a fair amount of negative response. At one end of the spectrum, we have this editorial that ran on ComicBookMovie.com. You can look for it for yourself, since I would rather not link to it and give them the traffic.
The sentiment behind the piece was disgust at Star Trek Into Darkness writer Lindelof [who I will get to later] apologizing for the scene. The user who wrote it, AZSuperman, also believed that it was Badass Digest writer Devin Faraci who sparked the idea that Alice Even standing in her underwear might be a little sexist.
This explains why the editorial takes the time to kindly inform Faraci that his man card has been revoked. It goes a step further, however, by concluding with the most memorable line from Billy Madison in response to the very thought that people might take offence at this scene.
While there were certainly people in the comment section who thought the article was a bit much, there were also some fine examples of others who strongly shared in this user’s opinion:
It wasn’t all
thinly veiled misogyny on this side of the fence, however. There were some, like this comment on the article In the Flesh: Good Naked Vs. Bad Naked on Film and TV that finds justification for the scene in Star Trek lore:
To end with there’s the oft-asked question of “why are you only angry now?” That’s voiced in the image far above declaring the relinquishment of Faraci’s man card, featuring two scantily clad women from the original series. An instance in the film where Kirk gets up from a threesome with two feline alien ladies is also brought up.
The Points Being Made
Moving back to those whose criticism of the scene prompted so much response, I think it would be easiest for me to do so with a few excerpts from select articles.
From Alice Eve Strips, Benedict Cumberbatch Showers And Devin Loses His Man Card [by Devin Faraci himself!]:
“There are a couple of problems with this scene. For one thing, there’s absolutely no reason for her to be stripping. The movie doesn’t even offer the flimsiest of explanations, like having her get radioactive goo on her clothes after examining the torpedos. I honestly don’t know why she has to strip down in this moment during this conversation. It’s almost like the actions of someone with a mental deficiency.”
From an article by Jill Pantozzi [on a topic I’m touching on in the next section]:
“Eve’s character of Dr. Carol Marcus was touted to have incredible intelligence, though instead of allowing her to use it to effect the plot, she was used as the most blatant eye-candy I’ve seen in a long time. We see this kind of thing a lot in Hollywood, sure, but the scene in question was akin to an actor holding up and verbally speaking the name of a can of Coca-Cola during a scene about cats or general surgery.”
And, in the aforementioned “In The Flesh” article by Anna Pinkert:
“When Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) strips down to her bra and undies during a boring exposition scene in Star Trek Into Darkness, I wasn’t so much offended as baffled. Sure, she needed an activity to keep the scene moving while she explained the history of the mysterious torpedoes to Captain Kirk, but did it have to involve him sneaking a peek of her body? She was apparently ‘changing clothes’ to complete the next part of the mission. In the rest of the film, however, the characters swap out outfits off-screen. Somehow, Marcus is the only one who doesn’t get to go back to her quarters to change.”
From The Horses’ Mouths [In Which The Horses Are The Creators]
To really get to the bottom of all of this, it’s probably best that we go to the source. First off is co-writer Damon Lindelof, who in a Q&A with MTV responded to a question he very helpfully repeats before he answers:
“Why is Alice Eve in her underwear, gratuitously and unnecessarily, without any real effort made as to why in God’s name she would undress in that circumstance? Well there’s a very good answer for that. But I’m not telling you what it is. Because… uh… MYSTERY?”
When he was asked about a rumoured deleted shirtless scene involving Benedict Cumberbatch he replied with the following response that I can’t describe as anything but painfully immature:
” As for the shirtless scene… we scripted it, but I don’t think it ever got shot. You know why? Because getting actors to take their clothes off is DEMEANING AND HORRIBLE AND…”
Mere minutes after he was called out on these answers in an article on The Mary Sue he apologized via Twitter:
This, coupled with three other tweets, creates the under full-length apology:
“I copped to the fact that we should have done a better job of not being gratuitous in our representation of a barely clothed actress. We also had Kirk shirtless in underpants in both movies. Do not want to make light of something that some construe as mysogenistic. What I’m saying is I hear you, I take responsibility and will be more mindful in the future. Also, I need to learn how to spell ‘misogynistic.’”
JJ Abrams, director and producer, appeared on Conan last month, and talked a little bit about his latest film. The site I just linked to is described with this blurb: “To answer charges of sexism in “Star Trek,” J.J. shows a cut scene of Benedict Cumberbatch showering.” And here is the full clip:
Abrams describes Eve’s standing about in her underwear as “sort of a tradeoff” and “a balance” to Kirk being half-naked in bed earlier. Furthermore, a shot featuring Cumberbatch showering [the aforementioned shirtless scene Lindelof referred to] would have done more to maintain that important equilibrium he mentions. He makes sure to mention that he is not defending the scene.
So What Do We Do With This?
If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time it should be pretty clear what my stance is. In the event where you can’t support what you’re doing with the narrative, where it becomes starkly apparent that you’re doing something for titillation’s sake alone, you’ve lost me as an audience member. What I find personally upsetting about this whole thing is not so much the response of the fans, but that of the creators.
Lindelof is understandably sensitive when it comes to the criticism of his work, but he replies childishly to questions that hit too close to home. Abrams, on the other hand, is a different story. All of his talk of striking a balance is certainly respectable in its own right, but that being said, it strikes me as too simplistic an approach to as complex a subject as sexuality in film. Is a shirtless man really equivalent to a shirtless woman? In what context?
Furthermore there’s the fact that he’s both a writer and a director, and as such is a person who understands the importance of narrative. I do believe that the reason he doesn’t defend the scene is because he acknowledges that there is no real plot-driven reason it’s in there. Hinting at a future between the characters could have been done in a number of other ways that didn’t require a woman to stand in her bra and panties in front of a man.
I didn’t appreciate the scene then, and I certainly don’t now having read both sides about how the internet has reacted to it. It’s disappointing that it took outrage from viewers to get both Lindelof and Abrams to sheepishly admit to it not being handled well, but maddening that so many are defending them to the point of growing angry when one of them apologizes.
To end with a point that Pinkert began her article with, I don’t consider myself a prude. Scantily clad women, and even nudity, don’t particularly bother me given their time and place within the story that’s being told. I can accept a topless prostitute in a brothel in Westeros, but if you think I am going to accept that a Starfleet officer and accomplished physicist just nonchalantly asks her captain to accompany her to a shuttle alone, and then to turn around as she strips, then you have another thing coming.